In an exclusive live interview on TODAY Tuesday, former Vice President Dick Cheney disputed the notion that the invasion of Iraq has weakened America’s standing in the global community.
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“I don’t think that it damaged our reputation around the world,’’ he told Matt Lauer. “I just don’t believe that. I think the critics at home want to argue that. In fact, I think it was sound policy that dealt with a very serious problem and eliminated Saddam Hussein from the kind of problem he presented before.
“What would’ve happened this week if Moammar Gadhafi had still been in power with a nuclear weapon in Libya? Would he have fled? I doubt it.’’
Cheney addressed claims from his new book, "In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir," in which he makes clear he supports continued use of waterboarding for terror suspects.Story: Dick Cheney on 9/11: ‘We were living in the fog of war’
But when presented with the prospect of an American citizen subjected to the controversial interrogation method under suspicion of being a spy, Cheney said he would oppose it.
“We probably would object to it on the ground that we have obligations to our citizens and we do everything we can to protect our citizens,’’ he told Lauer. “I think we would object because we wouldn’t expect an American citizen to be operating that way.
“I would argue that it’s important for us not to get caught up in the notion that you can only have popular methods of interrogation if you want to run an effective counterterrorism program,’’ Cheney said. “The fact is that it worked. We learned valuable, valuable information from that process and we kept the country safe for over seven years.’’
Video: Cheney: Iraq war was ‘sound policy’ (on this page)
Support for controversial policies was a staple of Cheney’s tenure.
“I was a big advocate of pursuing controversial policies in order to keep the country safe and obviously the critics extracted their pound of flesh for that,’’ he said.
In the time preceding the invasion of Iraq, Cheney writes about speaking frankly with Bush about “taking out’’ Saddam Hussein. But he insists that he was not pulling the strings of war behind the scenes.
“I think the president made the decision,’’ Cheney told Lauer. “He felt strongly about it, too. He understood the dimensions of what we were doing. I certainly supported it. I advocated it. I thought it was the right policy. I believe that still today.’’
Cheney also addressed the discrepancies between his and Bush’s memoirs in the retelling of certain events. In his book, Bush describes sending his advisors out of the room when making the ultimate decision to invade Iraq in the wake of 9/11, while Cheney writes that Bush privately asked him what to do after dismissing the rest of his advisors.
“I can’t make that case,’’ Cheney said about whether he ultimately pushed Bush into war with Iraq. “We needed to take the action that we did.’’
“If you look back at the proposition that we faced after 9/11 with respect to Saddam Hussein, we were concerned with the prospects of terrorists like the 9/11 crowd acquiring weapons of mass destruction. I think that’s still the biggest threat we face. At the time, to go after Saddam Hussein and take him down, we eliminated a major source of proliferation.’’
Preventing another major terrorist incident stands as one of his proudest accomplishments as vice president.
“The most important thing we did was after 9/11 we prevented all further mass casualty attacks on the United States,’’ he said.
As for the discrepancies between his and Bush’s accounts, Cheney did not discuss the contents of his new book with Bush before it went to press.
“I did not cooperate or coordinate on our book,” Cheney said. “He wrote his book, I wrote my book. If they were identical in the their treatment of these events, people would say, ‘Looks like plagiarism to us,’ or ‘They cooperated. It’s a conspiracy of some kind.’ In fact what it was, was a serious effort by me to put down the events that I remember. I’m sure the president did the same.’’
Bush's decision not to pardon Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice regarding the leaking of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity, strained the relationship with the Vice President. That strain continues today.Story: Cheney says he urged Bush to bomb suspected Syria nuke site
“I felt very strongly that Scooter was not treated fairly,’’ Cheney told Lauer. “I don’t think an indictment was appropriate. I really think he was badly treated. I thought he deserved a pardon. The president disagreed.
“It’s one we still disagree with. If it were to come up today between the two of us, he would state his view, I would state mine. It’s not going to change.’’
Another source of tension: Cheney's relations with former Secretary of State Colin Powell. Powell accused Cheney of taking “cheap shots’’ at him in the book in an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation’’ Sunday. In his book, Cheney claims Powell never formally voiced objections to the Iraq war during meetings. Bush has written that he knew about Powell’s reservations.
“I wrote the events as I participated in them,’’ Cheney said. “I’ve got three chapters on my time as Secretary of Defense, (that are) basically all positive about General Powell. There’s a lot of very positive stuff in there, but a balanced account, I think, also required me to put down what my opinion was, and I think that’s what I’ve done.’’
In the book, Cheney also addresses the hunting accident in 2006 in which he shot 78-year-old friend Harry Whittington, an incident that caused him great sadness — and became an easy target for late-night comedians.
“When you’re a vice president, you better be prepared to be a punchline,’’ Cheney said. “You've got to live with it. Obviously, my concern with Mr. Whittington was heartfelt, and I've got a great relationship (with him). One of the nicest letters I've received from anybody came from Harry last year when I was sick and in the hospital. But in terms of people taking potshots at the vice president, it goes with the turf.’’
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